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Australia closes state border for first time in 100 years to halt coronavirus

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By Colin Packham and Renju Jose

SYDNEY (Reuters) – The border between Australia’s two most populous states will close from Tuesday for an indefinite period, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said on Monday, following an outbreak of the coronavirus in his state.

The decision marks the first time the border with neighbouring New South Wales has been shut in 100 years – officials last blocked movement between the two states in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Melbourne, Victoria’s capital, has surged in recent days, prompting authorities to enforce strict social-distancing orders in 30 suburbs and put nine public housing towers into complete lockdown.

The state reported 127 new COVID-19 infections overnight, its biggest one-day spike since the pandemic began. It also reported one death, the first nationally in more than two weeks, taking the country’s total tally to 105.

“It is the smart call, the right call at this time, given the significant challenges we face in containing this virus,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne as he announced the border closure.

The closure will, however, likely be a blow to Australia’s economic recovery as it heads into its first recession in nearly three decades.

Andrews said the decision to close the border, effective from 11.59 p.m. local time on Tuesday, was made jointly with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Victoria’s only other internal border, with South Australia state, is already closed.

Australia has fared better than many countries in the coronavirus pandemic, with just short of 8,500 cases so far, but the Melbourne outbreak has raised alarm bells. The country has reported an average of 109 cases daily over the past week, compared with an average of just 9 cases daily over the first week of June.

(Reporting by Colin Packham and Renju Jose; editing by Jane Wardell)

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Survey finds working Canadians are better off financially, more stressed about money – CTV News

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TORONTO —
A new survey has found that Canadians who’ve been able to continue working through the pandemic are in a better spot financially than they were a year ago, but are more stressed about money.

The survey from the Canadian Payroll Association shows 62 per cent of working Canadians were able to save more than five per cent of their paycheque so far in 2020, compared to 59 per cent last year

Additionally, 37 per cent of Canadians reported living paycheque-to-paycheque, a decline of six percentage points from 2019 and the lowest in the 12-year history of the survey.

The researchers hypothesize that less commuting, not having to pay for child care and saving on lunches contributed to the improved financial well-being of working Canadians through the pandemic.

However, the survey also found 43 per cent of Canadians are financially stressed, and just 22 per cent consider themselves “comfortable.” The results had previously remained steady at about 33 per cent in each category since 2009.

The Canadian Payroll Association believes this jump is above the historical trends, meaning there is an outside factor impacting this stress, namely the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While it’s not a surprise that more Canadian workers are financially stressed, the variance between this year’s results and what was expected based on the historical trends, caught us off guard,” Dr. Adam Metzler, associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and one of the survey leads, said in a news release.

“The algorithm recognized that, despite remaining on payroll and being in a measurably better financial position right now, financial stress this year was impacted by a complex combination of new factors — including those that are more psychological than financial in nature.”

The survey also found the majority of Canadians are concerned about inflation, their ability to retire, their job security and a possible recession.

Additionally, 69 per cent of Canadians said they spent time at work thinking about their personal finances, which the association estimates represents $20.3 billion in lost productivity.

“That estimate is a conservative one,” said Peter Tzanetakis, president of the Canadian Payroll Association. “The costs of increased absenteeism, decreased motivation, strained relationships with colleagues, and turnover that many respondents cite as consequences of financial stress, also need to be taken into account.”

As a means of lowering financial stress levels in the workplace, the association suggests employers can work with employees to establish long-term saving habits, engage with employees during a crisis and to establish a payroll continuity plan.

According to the August Labour Force Survey from Statistics Canada, the national unemployment rate is at 10.2 per cent. That’s an improvement of 1.4 per cent from July, but still a ways away from the 4.5 per cent unemployment rate in February, before the pandemic.

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Spouse witnessed N.S. gunman torching their cottage, court documents say – CBC.ca

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The man responsible for April’s mass shootings in Nova Scotia took a leisurely drive around a community close to his rural cottage, stopped to chat with a fellow denturist and oversaw work being done on his property in the hours before the massacre began.

The details of a seemingly mundane day leading up to the shootings are contained in sections of court records that a provincial court judge ordered released Monday following a court hearing.

The documents also say that on the evening of April 18, the gunman’s spouse was present inside as he doused the floor of the cottage they shared with gasoline — before grabbing guns and igniting the log building he’d prized. The woman, whose name is redacted from the records, later told police he said, “I’m done, I’m done. It’s too late [redacted], I’m done.”

On April 18 and 19, Gabriel Wortman killed 22 neighbours, acquaintances and strangers in several communities in rural Nova Scotia. He torched his own cottage and garage, and three other homes over a 13-hour period before being shot dead by police at a gas station in Enfield, N.S. after a lengthy search.

The faces of the 22 victims. The rampage that left 22 people dead unfolded over about 13 hours, before police shot and killed the gunman. (CBC)

A judge on Monday approved the release of six more of the approximately 23 judicial authorizations RCMP have obtained since the massacre — to search gunman’s properties in Portapique and Dartmouth, and for his financial records. Redacted copies of seven were previously released. 

Though the new documents are heavily redacted, each is about 90 pages long and includes information about how the gunman procured decommissioned RCMP cruisers and police equipment and about his financial transactions months prior to the attacks. All information related to the type of firearms used remains blacked out. 

Expected to head to Dartmouth

It’s unclear why the gunman “snapped,” as his spouse described it to police. The documents also offer little information about why Wortman targeted his victims, some of whom he knew. His partner told police she did not know their neighbours well. 

She also told police that, that night, she believed he was going to take her to Dartmouth, where they had another home and a clinic, to kill people or burn buildings, according to the documents. The specifics are blacked out. The woman has never spoken publicly about what she saw on April 18. Her lawyer has declined requests for comment from CBC News. 

A search warrant document says police recovered cash on the shooter’s property that he had stashed in an ammunition box. (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

At some point after Wortman loaded guns and ammunition into his mock cruiser, the woman escaped. She told investigators she initially hid in a truck before spending hours in a wooded area in Portapique. Though she heard someone announcing they were police on a loudspeaker, she said she feared it was her partner. Around dawn she went to the home of a neighbour who called 911.

Large cash withdrawal

RCMP have previously said Wortman liquidated his assets and stockpiled gas and food due to COVID-19 fears. A warrant that the court released in May revealed people told the investigators the gunman was paranoid and had a history of abuse.

According to the new documents, his spouse also told police in the weeks prior to the attacks he was “consumed” by the pandemic, talking about it constantly and saying he “knew he was going to die.”

She also said he feared that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would find a way to control money and that prompted him to withdraw nearly half a million dollars from his own accounts. The RCMP interviewed officials from CIBC and Brinks about a March 30 withdrawal in Dartmouth.

The gunman’s cottage in Portapique was destroyed in a fire he set, but a large deck along the shore was mostly intact. Pictured is the area under the structure. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Officials from the bank told police that Wortman asked to liquidate investments and then transferred the money to his business accounts. On March 25 at a branch in Dartmouth, he asked the bank’s director that his $475,000 be paid out in $100 bills, according to the court documents. 

The records state the bank worked with Brinks to set up a pick-up on March 30. 

RCMP have not said how much cash police have recovered. The search warrant documents show that on April 22, investigators found cash folded in tinfoil packets inside an ammunition box discovered at the Portapique property. 

Suspicious transactions flagged 

Canada’s money-laundering watchdog, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre (Fintrac), reported on Wortman’s personal and professional financial activities after the massacre, according to the newly released documents.

The records say Wortman’s PayPal account was used to buy vehicle accessories labelled as being for police use on eBay. The court documents describe the purchases as “for items utilized in the facilitation of domestic terrorist activities.”

Police searched the Atlantic Denture Clinic in downtown Dartmouth on April 20. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

According to the court documents, the Fintrac review found that PayPal flagged suspicious transactions between March 22 and Dec. 5, 2019 — though it’s not clear from the records if that’s when they were reported as suspicious or if that’s when they occurred.

Those purchases included accessories for police vehicles such as:

  • A centre console for a 2013 Ford Taurus.
  • A ram for the front bumper of a Taurus sedan.
  • Siren lights. 
  • A dashcam.
  • Thin blue line vinyl decal.
  • Hubcaps.
  • A gun rack.

Other transactions listed as suspicious include $15,045 worth of items — including decommissioned cars — purchased with credit cards from GCSurplus in Ottawa. The site is run by Public Services and Procurement Canada.

There’s also reference to cash deposits payable to Wortman from Northumberland Investments, one of his companies. The Fintrac review found three questionable transactions: two cash deposits in 2010 totalling $200,000 and another for $246,000. The transactions happened in Fredericton and Dartmouth, but the documents don’t elaborate on the circumstances.

Border crossings

What is clear is that over the years, people around the gunman knew he had a penchant for acquiring car parts and collecting motorcycles. Some also knew he had guns and one car that he’d outfitted to resemble an actual cruiser.

The documents reference interviews with two people who responded to a Kijiji ad about an off-road vehicle in the weeks prior to April’s attacks. In both cases, Wortman showed off his replica cruiser inside the large garage he had in Portapique.

Using one of his companies, he purchased the 2017 Ford Taurus used in the attacks on July 3, 2019, from the RCMP, according to the search warrant records. 

A friend of Aaron Tuck, who was one of Wortman’s victims, told police that in August 2019, Tuck told him that Wortman’s mock cruiser was indistinguishable from an actual police vehicle and that he kept a holster for a gun in the back of it. Tuck was killed alongside his wife, Jolene Oliver, and his daughter, Emily, at their home in Portapique.

Gabriel Wortman carried out his rampage using a vehicle made to look like an RCMP cruiser in every way, with the exception of the numbers police circled in this photo. (Nova Scotia RCMP)

Peter Griffon, a neighbour who was on parole and who printed the decals for the cruiser, initially lied to police about his involvement but later showed investigators images of the vehicle he kept on his phone. He did odd jobs for Wortman and on April 18 had been splitting wood for him. He last saw him around noon that day, before Wortman headed out for a drive.

Wortman also stopped and talked with a fellow denturist, who is not identified, about work and COVID-19.  

The gunman’s spouse said Wortman was constantly scouring sites for police gear which he bought in both Canada and the U.S.

Records the RCMP obtained from Canada Border Services Agency showed that Wortman crossed the U.S.-Canada border in Woodstock, N.B., 15 times over a two-year period, with his last return to Canada on March 6. He did not have permits to import supplies for his denturist business, but the CBSA said he was personally importing car parts.

Wortman appears to have had a long history of threats and violence. A former neighbour has spoken out about being harassed by Wortman after reporting to RCMP that Wortman abused his spouse. The spouse and another relative relayed to police an account of Wortman’s vicious attack on his father during a trip to the Caribbean. In 2011, someone reported to Truro police that the denturist threatened to “kill a cop.”

The documents released Monday are the second batch of search warrant documents the court has agreed to release. CBC applied in April for access to the records and seven other media outlets joined the application.

David Coles, the lawyer representing the media organizations, has filed a request for a judicial review of decisions Judge Laurel Halfpenny MacQuarrie had made in the case. Halfpenny MacQuarrie will consider that request Oct. 2 in Halifax provincial court.

If you are seeking mental health support during this time, here are resources available to Nova Scotians. 

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Canada's biggest maker of paper towel concerned about supply amid COVID-19 – CBC.ca

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The head of Canada’s largest manufacturer of tissue products says he’s concerned about the industry’s supply of paper towel ahead of a potential second wave of COVID-19.

Kruger Products CEO Dino Bianco says demand for paper towel has soared as people stay at home and clean more frequently.

He says the industry is “very tight” on paper towel inventory across North America, despite efforts to build up supply.

Bianco says Kruger, which makes SpongeTowels paper towels, is pushing to open its new plant in Sherbrooke, Que., to add more capacity in Canada.

Although slated to open in February 2021, he said the company is trying to get the factory up and running faster. Some machines started over the summer, while more are set to come online in October.

Bianco said the plant will increase the company’s paper towel and toilet paper manufacturing capacity by 20 per cent.

Meanwhile, he says the company is also seeing a shortage of the recycled fibres used in about 25 per cent of its tissue products.

Bianco says Kruger recycles white paper used in offices, but that the market has dried up because people aren’t in offices printing.

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